Authors: James Shipman
James D. Shipman
© 2013 James D. Shipman
Cover art and design © 2013 James D. Shipman and Richard K. Green. All cover art and designs purchased and printed with permission of designer Richard K. Green.
All rights reserved, worldwide. No part of this book may be reproduced, copied, or transmitted in any medium, whether electronic, internet, or otherwise, without the expressed permission of the author.
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I would like to thank all of my friends and fellow authors who previewed “Constantinopolis” for me and provided invaluable comments and corrections. A special thank you to Becky F., my proofreader, advisor, and all around everything.
Thank you also to Cynthia.F., Kristin.B. and Ellie.F. for assistance in editing and proofreading.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 1452
Mehmet held the twisting adolescent tightly while the dagger drove deeper into the boy’s throat. Blood was pumping from the wound but Mehmet was behind the body and most of the hot liquid splashed onto the cobblestones. The boy’s muscles convulsed beneath his hands, trying to break free, but Mehmet kept his left arm wrapped tightly around the boy’s waist while his right hand gripped the knife. Soon the body went limp, and he let it slide gently to the ground. He knelt down and wiped the dagger clean on the boy’s robes, then walked on casually into the darkness.
Mehmet waited a moment in the shadows, listening for voices or footsteps, then continued prowling the midnight streets of Edirne, capital of the Ottoman Empire. He was dressed in simple clothing that hung loosely on his frame. He was tall with dark features, a thin hooked nose and full, almost feminine lips. He was twenty-one, although he appeared older, particularly his eyes that held a cautious wisdom.
He enjoyed his walks in the dark. He liked Edirne. The former city of Adrianople still contained a large Greek population but also an increasing number of Ottomans. The narrow stone streets ambled through mixed neighborhoods with closely huddled residences, opening periodically to the large churches and cathedrals now largely converted to Mosques. Edirne had served as the capital of the Ottoman Empire since its capture in 1365, when it was moved from Bursa, in Anatolia. Bursa continued to serve as the religious center of the empire, and contained the tombs of the Ottoman founding fathers, Osman for whom the empire and people were named, and his son, Orhan.
As Mehmet walked through the sleeping city he let his thoughts wander, trying to relax. He loved the night—his quiet time to escape. He could let his mind mull over the questions and issues he had experienced during the day without the multiple interruptions and problems he was typically forced to address. He needed peace and quiet. He did not trust people, particularly those closest to him. Out here he could let down his guard. He also liked to eavesdrop, seeking information in the shadows that he would never learn otherwise.
At a crossroad, he came across a street sweeper who growled at him to move aside. As he did the sweeper looked into Mehmet’s face and gasped, falling to the ground in prostration. Mehmet sighed in annoyance and again drew his dagger, plunging it deeply into the sweeper’s neck. The man struggled in surprise, blood gurgling from the wound. Mehmet held him to the ground with his knee until he stopped moving, then wiped his blade clean on the man’s clothes and continued on. Two tonight. More than typical. He hated these interruptions. Why wouldn’t people simply leave him alone?
As he walked, he strained his ears to pick up conversations that would sometimes emanate from the thin walls of the closely crowded houses. He was searching for the thoughts of the city. He paused at a number of locations to pick up conversations, but he heard nothing of interest. As he passed the outside courtyard of a wealthy merchant’s home, he found what he was looking for.
“Times have changed,” stated a deep voice, speaking Turkish. Mehmet could speak Turkish and Greek, as well as Persian and Arabic.
“What do you mean?” answered another man, with a slightly higher voice. Both spoke the educated Turkish of the middle and upper class.
“Murad is dead. I think our days of glory are over. At least for now. For a hundred and fifty years our sultans have expanded our empire at the expense of the infidel Christians, but we can hardly expect that to continue.”
“Yes, Allah has favored our people.”
“Until now. Now what do we have? We have conquered Anatolia and driven our way far in to Europe. We have defeated the Italians and Hungarians and every crusading army sent by the infidels. How can we hold these gains? Not with a young sultan who twice had to give power back to his father? Who could not win control of his own household guard? I am afraid he will be driven from power and we will return to the bad days of civil war among our people.”
“Come now Ishtek, you are hardly being fair. He was only ten or eleven when he was made Sultan the first time. Murad should have kept the Sultanate until the boy was ready. I do not agree with you. I think he will do fine. Perhaps he will even be greater than Murad.”
“Bah! You are ever the optimist my friend. I will be content at this point to live out my life in Edirne, without being driven back to Bursa or further by the Hungarians. Can Mehmet stand up to John Hunyadi? Murad hardly could. I would not be surprised if Hunyadi’s armies were massing in the north right now, ready to strike against us.”
“Truly Hunyadi and the Hungarians are a threat. But we have not lost a major battle against the infidels. I do not think we will start now. Even under a weak Sultan. We still have our Grand Vizier Halil. He practically led our empire during the last few years of Murad’s reign, particularly when Murad relinquished power to his son. He will know what to do.”
“Ah yes, Halil. Allah bless him. If only he were our Sultan. He is wise and holy, and cares for the people. He practically
the Sultan. We must put our trust in him. He will lead us even if Mehmet cannot.”
“Mehmet. How can he come from Murad? We have had such good fortune. We have had such great leaders. Now we are left with an arrogant boy. We must pray for our salvation.”
Mehmet, Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, walked away from the home, having heard what he sought. He continued his walk, turning over carefully in his mind the words of the overhead conversation.
He was angry. He had almost burst through the door and killed the men right then and there. How could he though? They were right of course. Mehmet had failed terribly when he first became Sultan. He had wanted to do too much, too fast, and his father’s counselors and viziers worked against him. They had embarrassed him, let him make foolish mistakes, and then had called his father back, not once, but twice. Mehmet remembered the burning anguish when his father took the sultanate back the second time, chastising Mehmet with bitter words and sending him to govern a remote section of the Empire.
His father! Mehmet stewed when he thought of him. His father had never shown him any real affection or spent significant time with him. He was not, after all, originally the heir to the Sultanate. He was a second son and only became heir when his older brother died. Mehmet had been forced from then on to endure a frantic and often harsh tutoring process. He was just beginning to grasp his responsibilities when at the age of 12 his father had retired and named him Sultan. He had done the best he could to govern, but in short order Grand Vizier Halil had called his father back to take over the throne. The Sultan felt Halil should have helped him, should have supported him. Instead he had watched and reported Mehmet’s shortcomings to his father, betraying him and leading to his humiliation.
From then on Mehmet had bided his time. He had learned to keep his thoughts and emotions to himself, to trust no one. He had studied everything: military art, languages, administration, and the arts. He had worked tirelessly so that when he next ruled he would not only equal his father but also exceed him. He would be the greatest Sultan in the history of his people, Allah willing.
His chance came when Murad finally died only two years before, as Mehmet turned 19. Mehmet quickly took power, ordering his baby half brother strangled to assure there would be no succession disputes, and set to organizing his empire. He had learned to be cautious and measured, leaving his father’s counselors and even Halil in power to assist him. From there he had slowly built up a group of supporters. They were young and exclusively Christian converts to Islam. These followers, many of whom now held council positions, were not nearly as powerful as the old guard, but they were gaining ground. They were the future, if Halil did not interfere.
Halil. His father’s Grand Vizier and now his own. He had always treated Mehmet with condescending politeness. He was powerful, so powerful that Mehmet could not easily remove him. So powerful it was possible he could remove Mehmet in favor of a cousin or other relative. Mehmet hated him above all people in the world, but he could not simply replace him. He needed Halil, at least for now, and Halil knew it.
This dilemma was the primary reason for Mehmet’s nighttime wanderings. He needed time away from the palace. Time to think and work out a solution to the problem. How could he free himself from Halil without losing power in the process? He could simply order Halil executed, but would the order be followed or would it be his own head sitting on a pole? The elders and religious leaders all respected and listened to Halil. Only the young renegades, the Christian converts who owed their positions to Mehmet were loyal to him. If Halil was able to rally the old guard to him, Mehmet had no doubt that the result would be a life or death dispute.
Mehmet needed to find a cause that could rally the people to him. The conversations he had heard night after night told him this same thing. The people felt that his father was a great leader, and that he was not. If he could gain the people’s confidence, then he would not need Halil, and the other elders would follow his lead.
Mehmet knew the solution. He knew exactly what would bring the people to his side, and what would indeed make him the greatest Sultan in the history of the Ottoman people.
The solution however was a great gamble. His father and father’s fathers had conquered huge tracts of territory in Anatolia and then in Europe, primarily at the expense of the Greeks. Mehmet intended to propose something even more audacious, to conquer the one place that his ancestors had failed to take. If he succeeded he would win the adoration of his people and would be able to deal with Halil and any others who might oppose him. If he failed . . .
The Sultan eventually made his way back near the palace, to the home of his closest friend, Zaganos Pasha. Zaganos, the youngest brother of Mehmet’s father in law, had converted to Islam at age 13, and was Mehmet’s trusted general and friend. He was the most prominent member of the upstart Christian converts that made up the Sultan’s support base.
Zaganos was up, even at this late hour, and embraced his friend, showing him in and ordering apple tea from his servants. Zaganos was shorter and stockier than Mehmet, a powerful middle-aged man in the prime of his life. He had receding dark brown hair. A long scar cut across his forehead and down over his left eye. He looked on Mehmet with smiling eyes extending in to crow’s feet. He smiled like a proud uncle or father.